The Pros and Cons of Fiction Writing Groups

Finding commune with other writers is trickier than it looks

The Pros

You’ll find more introverts

I’m an introvert and finding other introverts is tricky at the best of times — we’re introverted, after all, and don’t massively put ourselves out there if we don’t have to. So a great way of finding others like me was to go join an activity that is normally quite solitary, like writing. It’s a powerful thing to realise that you are definitely not the only one, in this world that spends much of its attention on extraverts.

You will have additional motivation to work

This isn’t so much an issue for me these days, because I’ve built up a habit of writing every day. But when I first committed to this path, that definitely wasn’t the case — I hardly wrote, because it was scary and difficult. Having a defined time and place in which I was forced to sit and write became a really vital first step in developing my ability to sit for long periods and actually get the work done. It kept me accountable, it kept me consistent.

You can find others who share your passion

By far the best thing to have come out of my attendance at various fiction writing groups is that I have made some friends who really share my passion for the written word. I am proud and happy to call these people my closest friends, and I owe writing groups a hell of a lot for helping one random foreigner finally crack the friendship code in London.

The Cons

A lot of people are not that serious about writing

An open writing group will attract people who aren’t actually that committed to writing. This is fine if they don’t bother you, but it is a thing to be aware of. While I found great friends, I don’t have a group of peers with whom I can confide on my writing — we never quite achieved that. So while my friendship needs were satisfied, my desire to improve as a writer definitely wasn’t.

There are always people looking to put you down

It’s a stereotype of the MFA that there’s always that one guy who chats big and annoys everyone with their egomania. Well, that guy is in every writing group too. He’ll be there, ready to tell you how superior his writing is and how boring yours is. How they’ve ‘already been published’, or to say things like, ‘What, you haven’t even been published yet?’ Just take a break, annoying writer person. We are all doing our own thing.

Plenty of people just want to show off

A natural follow on is that talking about writing incites insecurities in people — it is, after all, quite a vulnerable act to write something and put it out into the world. Many people will compensate for this fear of their vulnerability biting them on the arse by showing off about how great they themselves think they are. Or how their idea is way more out there than yours. They want to play the comparison game, and they’re reacting to insecurities by wanting to prove themselves.

Plenty of people don’t know anything about writing

The biggie: most people in an open writing group are coming from either very different careers, day jobs, and very different levels of experience with fiction writing. There’s always that guy or gal who thinks that because they attended one workshop once, they are the authority on how writing gets done. Probably not.

Some conclusions…

I think it’s infinitely better to find the awesome writer people, and start your own group. If feedback is what you’re after, this works so much better with an intimate group who know your work and you theirs. If it’s just a sense of community you’re after, being selective about what you call your writing community isn’t a bad thing — after all, do you really want to leave yourself exposed to toxic writers? I personally don’t; I’ve worked too hard and too long at my craft, I’m not interested in what one egomaniac at a writing group thinks is the gospel. But maybe you are curious, in which case an open writing group is definitely worth the punt — you will learn a lot, and quickly, about where you stand in your views on writing well.

Written by

Trying to live better. Writing on Mental Health, Relationships, and Living Ethically. Editor/Podcaster.

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